A Charter for the Socio-Ecological Transition of a Cross-Border Metropolitan Region, 2018-2020.
With fast population increase and strong housing demand projected to continue in the coming decades, Geneva encounters profound development challenge. Since decades, the city has been spilling across the national border. Urban growth and land consumption in the Canton and in the French part of the Genevian agglomeration continue to put pressure on settlement areas and to erode agricultural and natural landscapes.
How can thus designers offer design and planning strategies, not only for the city of Geneva, but for the entire region to combat the resulting increasing social injustice? Can design help to mediate among different cross-border interests, governance arrangements and assist transboundary solutions? How can one envision a common vision for the region, beyond the city-centric conceptions, and beyond the national border? And can design and planning respond to the urgency of social and environmental “transitions”, facing up to the climate crisis and biodiversity loss?


The city of Geneva and its region have always represented a diverse territory of perceived opposites – the Swiss-French, the protestant-catholic, international-local, and urban-rural qualities and conditions, all come together in the Genevian cuvette, framed by the Jura and the Alps. In 2008, the French and Swiss municipalities around Geneva formalised a decade-long process of negotiating regional cooperation by creating a new territorial entity, the Grand Genève. Ten years later, in October 2018, the public Consultation Grand Genève 2050 launched by the Fondation Braillard Architectes, gathered seven international and interdisciplinary teams around a task to propose design and planning visions for the future of Grand Genève, based on the necessity of “ecological transition” and in line with the principles of sustainable development. In this framework, the team of the ETH Zürich Architecture of Territory, the UNI Luxembourg Master in Architecture, and Raumbureau A+U elaborated Grand Genève et son sol, a territorial strategy for a more self-sufficient and polycentric cross-border region.

The project approaches socio-ecological transition through the problematic of land, understood in its manifold expressions – as ecological structure, as appropriated and regulated surface, and as a place of identification. The central hypothesis is that the future of the region should be recast through the notions of the built and the unbuilt. The built-up and the unbuilt lands throughout the region ought to be harmonized with each other, and any further competition among land uses avoided. Thus, a new urban figure, which balances social and environmental needs and qualities, becomes possible.

The project is organized in the form of a charter, which operates along two axes. The first axis elaborates five urban strategies that can be deployed at various scales, from regional to urban and architectural: Cité naturelle, Cité agricole, Cité de proximité, Cité partagée and Cité cyclique. The second axis describes seven territories of potentials in the region, that should serve as basis for future land-use decisions. Derived from fieldwork, and elaborated through urbanistic and cartographic studies, seven territories of potentials are developed: Bi-natonal Metropolis, Global-Local Territories, Post-Fossil Infrastructures, Agri-Landscape Rooms, Metropolitan Countryside, Vital Streams and Canopies, and Mountain Parks (see illustrations).

The new urban figure —in effect, a new kind of city which emerges at regional scale —dissolves the centre–periphery dichotomy, giving shape to a more equitable, polycentric, self-sufficient and regenerative landscape, composed of both built and unbuilt lands. In contrast to a master plan, the proposed territorial strategies are flexible, and able to respond to various and unpredictable scenarios of growth and shrinkage. While the external boundaries of the future city-region would be demarcated by the silhouette of cuvette genevois, its development would take place internally, within the figure, through the synergy and consolidation of specific potentials of the built and the unbuilt.
The charter further offers a programmatic outline with agendas for design and governance strategies at various scales.

The Consultation Grand Genève 2050 concluded in September 2020, with a final dialogue and participants‘ presentations. Since the results have been further presented in a TV documentary, public lectures, and are currently discussed in the conference cycle  “Designing the transition of Greater Geneva“, hosted online by Foundation Braillard Architects.

Grand Genève et son sol: A Charter for the Socio-Ecological Transition of a Cross-Border Metropolitan Region, September 2020.

ETH Zürich DARCH, Chair of Architecture and Territorial Planning
Prof. Milica Topalović
Karoline Kostka
Ferdinand Pappenheim
Charlotte Schaeben
Jan Westerheide

University of Luxembourg FHSE, Master in Architecture
Prof. Dr Florian Hertweck
Prof. Dr Markus Hesse
Prof. Dr Nikos Katsikis
Ivonne Weichold

Raumbureau A+U
Rolf Jenni
Tom Weiss

Consultation Grand Genève 2050
Fondation Braillard Architectes

Dr Philippe Brun, Dr Thomas Gibon, Prof. Dr Tanja Herdt, Prof. Dr Christoph Küffer, Dr Elena Cogato Lanza, Peter Loosli, Dr Antonino Marvuglia, Prof. Dr Francesco Viti

Knowledge gained through the work with students in the Geneva region since the fall semester of 2016 greatly informed the project. It was possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of the region by means of multiple cycles of design and research studios, field trips, elective courses, and two free diploma projects at ETH  Zürich DARCH Architecture of Territory and UNI Luxembourg FHSE Master in Architecture. Student work and participation greatly enriched the project’s research and design.

We would like to thank all of the collaborators, experts, students, and friends who contributed their invaluable support to the project.

Selected studios
Metropolitan Countryside — Lac Léman
Communes — Le Village Suisse Revisited
Geneva Unbuilt (1/2) — Gardening City and Land
Geneva Unbuilt (2/2) — Ideas take Root


La ville durable – Sept visions pour le Grand Genève“, LemanbleuTV documentary, February 2021.
Consultation Grand Genève. Som­mes-nous prêts pour la tran­si­ti­on?, in TRACÉS, November 2020.

“Designing the transition of Greater Geneva“, conference cycle in four sessions, hosted by the Foundation Braillard Architects, in partnership with Département du territoire du Canton de Genève and the Pôle métropolitain du Genevois français, 04 February – 06 Mai 2021.